the one about erring on the side of grace like Jesus...
August 26, 2019, 9:12 AM

Sermon from August 25, 2019

Text: Isaiah 58: 9b-14 and Luke 13:10-17

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, how many of you have been told what you need to do in order for God to be close to you in your life? I’m sure there are a number of ways that people have told you – or that you’ve heard – about what one must do for God to be close to you. In fact, I’m willing to bet that the #1 way that you’ve been told is that you need to follow God’s law. And typically, that ‘law’ cozies up really nicely with that particular person’s set of beliefs.

And no matter the type of ‘church person’ it is, they always seem to think that God only shows up when a particular set of rules are followed, or boxes are checked. And if you deviate from that set plan slightly, it throws everything out of order and you risk putting yourself (and others) in jeopardy.

We hear that stuff a lot. It could be rules like, “you need to be baptized to be a part of us, or take communion a certain number of times for you to be ‘good’ in God’s eyes.” Perhaps, those rules involve who can participate in leading worship. Maybe you’ve heard of those who get really perturbed depending on what organizations you support or what views one should hold close. Perhaps each of those scenarios hits a little close to home for us as well.

A few years ago I unintentionally made a point about how we view rules and traditions. I remember talking about how it isn’t how well or perfectly we ascribe to certain ‘church rules’ that brings us closer to God. As an example, I talked about the candles on the altar and how they should be lit.

For some, there is a certain order. Which side, which candle? There have been a few wide-eyed new acolytes that have come to me before their first service and asked, “Pastor… which one do I light first.” I kneel down, draw them in close and whisper, “I don’t care. Just light them all. God isn’t going to mind how you do it.”

Now, that particular Sunday three years ago, the candles didn’t get lit. I didn’t notice it until communion. But, there were many folks who came up to me after service who asked, “were the altar candles not lit to emphasize your point?”

No. Someone forgot, but it apparently seemed to work out pretty well.

In our first reading and gospel reading, we see the work of God push back on what we normally consider the ‘status quo’ of the life of faith.

Isaiah talks about what a person or a people must do in order for God to be with them. Usually, we might think – and perhaps the Israelites as well – that what God desires for us is to uphold those rituals and laws first.

Follow the rules, and I’ll be with you.

Yet, that isn’t what God says to the people – to us – through the words of Isaiah. There wasn’t a mention about being ritually clean – washing your hands in a certain way before eating. There wasn’t a mention about what clothes to wear, or foods to eat, or things you have to do in order for God to notice or see you.

Instead, its stop being jerks to each other and care for one another. Give of what you have, share in your abundance, be with those around you.

To me, that’s comforting. Because, I’ll tell you what. I unintentionally ‘break’ rules more often than others think I should. Sometimes, I even do it intentionally.

If you stick your hand out at communion, I’m going to give you the body of Christ. I just am. I’m not going to ask – in that moment – if you should be receiving this gift of meal and life. I’m going to give it to you.

More often than not, if you come to me with a need, I’m going to try to find a way to help you – even if it means that I don’t (always) follow the exact setup procedure.

When you ask if you served in worship leadership well (especially if you’re an acolyte) I’ll ask you two questions – was God given praise and honor and glory today? And did you burn the church down?

If you can answer correctly to those questions, you’re good in my book. And, I believe God is overjoyed as well. So far, we’ve been good.

Jesus himself was akin to erring on the side of grace and skirting the ‘rules’ of his day. Especially a big one like – doing no work on the sabbath.

In our gospel reading, our Lord is confronted with a woman who has been afflicted with the inability to stand up straight. She’s bent over and has been that way for a long, long time.

I’ve never had serious back trouble, but a couple of weeks ago I had some neck and back trouble and it was terrible. I cannot imagine not having the ability to stand up straight and move freely for years. It was excruciating not being able to do that for just a few days.

And so, when approached by this woman, Jesus heals her. On the Sabbath no less. On the day that the ‘rules’ require the people of Israel to rest in observance of the day that God rested after the story of creation.

Jesus didn’t follow the rules. And those who uphold the ‘rules’ - the Pharisees – the clergy of the day – are a little upset.

Jesus errs on the side of grace and love.

Now, I can see why the Pharisees get a little upset, it is their job to uphold the rules and laws of faith, and when someone like Jesus comes along and points a light at the injustice of some of those laws, it makes us squirm. It puts us on edge. It makes others question whether or not other rules and laws might need to be looked at again through a different lens.

I imagine it was the same for those clergy during the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Where Luther and others began the task of translating the Bible into native languages. No longer was it just for those who were ‘educated’ in this field, but given to all.

It broke a ‘rule.’ And yet, out of grace and love, the people began to see and know of God’s life with and for them even more fully and intimately than ever before.

God has continually taken what we assume must be the ‘correct’ way and shifted it or turned it completely upside down. Jesus upends the conventional ways to make a point about God.

God is going to love – despite and in spite – of the rules that we make.

God wants us to love and serve those around us. First and completely. Instead of just following rules that can (at times) keep us from helping those in need. God invites us into this life of faith that challenges the status quo and reaches out to people in need.

And living in that life of faith, we may ruffle feathers. Why? Because we’re called to help those in need and we are called into that service in ways that people wouldn’t expect, desire, or that it contrasts with what the world and society proclaims. Like Jesus, we see the ones who stand up straight and we see the ones who are bent over. We see the ones who are in need and we go to them. We proclaim. We serve. We help. We praise in joy and thanksgiving in all kinds of healing.

Healing in our life. Healing in the life of others around us.

If Jesus is going to err on the side of grace and love, perhaps we should be open to that possibility too? Amen.

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